FAER Report: It’s Not Just the Mentor!

< Back

January 1, 2013 Volume 77, Number 1
FAER Report: It’s Not Just the Mentor! Roderic G. Eckenhoff, M.D.

Max B. Kelz, M.D., Ph.D.

The goal of our collective push toward research mentorship is really to ensure that the supply of anesthesiology, critical care and pain practitioners, with the interest and ability to conduct cutting-edge research, remains strong. Why? Because research is what brought our specialty to where it is today, and research will be necessary to take us to the future. Our investigative activities are what keep us at the table of academic medical specialties as true partners. In essence, no research, no specialty.

But successful mentorship is complex; more than mentorship is required. First, and perhaps foremost, it requires a committed and capable mentee. All mentors with any experience will attest to this. The very best mentor will get nowhere with a mentee who lacks curiosity, motivation or the basic education of what research is all about. Many such mentees feel obliged to assent to research as they think it enhances their chances of landing faculty positions, or being accepted and promoted. Others have a “glass jaw” in that they become disconsolate with the first rejected paper or grant and then simply quit to avoid facing further such trauma. An excellent mentor can make a difference but, in general, will have difficulty with these trainees. In contrast, the best mentees have the drive and curiosity to succeed despite even poor mentorship. These people are those who come in on weekends and post-call days to conduct experiments, who have the resourcefulness to build or scavenge their own equipment, who know the recent literature better than their mentor and who relish the opportunity to argue their case. Even the best mentees benefit from mentors capable of fanning their flame with the right question or suggestion. We need to recognize as a specialty that we are not attracting enough of such trainees to anesthesiology. This despite the enormous intellectual challenges inherent in the neuroscience, immunology or cardiovascular biology of what we do every day. As faculty, we need to make time to gain access to undergraduates, first-year medical students and to participate in the MSTP programs that exist in many of our medical schools. We have found that many such students are startled to learn of the rich research opportunities available in our discipline. The early pairing of the right young people with the right mentor is synergistic; success is nearly ensured!

Why only “nearly” ensured? Because the other major element of successful mentorship is environment or culture. It is a sad truth that many of our academic departments stand on only two legs: clinical service and education. Research, because of its inherent inability to create financial profit, at least in the short term, is either left entirely behind, or faculty researchers are forced to accept lower compensation than their entirely clinical colleagues. Both research mentors and mentees suffer in such a culture. Therefore, it is not surprising that many abandon research activities altogether. For the specialty to prosper, and to maintain its long fought-for equity as an academic medical discipline, departments must value scientific inquiry. Departments need to adopt a structure that puts research and research training on equal footing with clinical service and clinical training. This might include, for example, a vice chair structure that represents each of the tripartite missions equally on all matters of department business. Physician/scientists must feel as valued as the clinicians. But an optimal culture shows value in both directions. Just as we have heard clinicians’ resentment of investigators “having fun” in the lab, we have also observed a degree of intellectual “arrogance” of the researchers towards their practitioner colleagues. Both are destructive to culture. Each of the three academic missions is vital to a vibrant and progressive department culture, and each deserves recognition and respect.

Finally, the mentor. Despite the importance of the mentee and culture, a good mentor can make a difference, even with the best mentees. The mentor needs to be absolutely committed to the success of their charges. Optimally, the mentor should have matured, emotionally as well as professionally, beyond the point of worrying about his or her own trajectory. At the same time, the mentor needs to have had a trajectory that serves as an example to the mentees. Our departments, in fact, have a fairly rich supply of such mentors, but the time available for mentorship activities is often at risk because of department culture – it does not generate revenue (again, in the short term).

Mentorship requires time to be responsive to the needs of the mentee, for example editing protocols, manuscripts and grants, critiquing presentations and fighting with administration on their behalf. On a more interpersonal level, the mentor needs not only to encourage, cajole, push and cheer for his or her mentees, but also to make sure they are not fearful of disseminating their ideas and results in both publications and presentations. The mentor should exude optimism, and use his or her own network of colleagues across the world to build a reputation for the mentee beyond the borders of his or her own institution. For instance, a few of our departments have agreements with each other for visiting professor exchanges – a clearly underutilized mechanism for junior faculty development.

In summary, successful mentorship results from a complex interplay between the mentor, mentee and the department culture. The new generation of anesthesiologist/scientists suggests we are doing O.K., but we suspect we can, and should, do better.

Apply for a FAER Research Grant
The Foundation for Anesthesia Education and Research is accepting applications for our 2013 grant cycle. The application deadline is February 15, 2013. Visit FAER.org/research-grants for application information.

Grant opportunities include:

  • Mentored Research Training Grant – Basic Science: A two-year, $175,000 grant for anesthesiology faculty members who have completed their residencies or fellowships within the past 10 years.
  • Mentored Research Training Grant – Clinical or Translational: A two-year, $175,000 grant for anesthesiology faculty members who have completed their residencies or fellowships within the past 10 years.
  • *PILOT PROGRAM* Mentored Research Training Grant – Healthcare Services Research: A two-year, $175,000 grant for anesthesiology faculty members who have completed their residencies or fellowships within the past 10 years.
  • Research in Education Grant – Two-year, $100,000 grant available for faculty members of all ranks.
  • Research Fellowship Grant – A one-year, $75,000 grant for anesthesiology residents after the CA-1 year.

  • Apply online at FAER.org/research-grants.
    Nominate A Colleague or Mentor for the 2013 FAER Mentoring Excellence in Research Award
    FAER is accepting nominations for the 2013 Mentoring Excellence in Research Award. The award recognizes an outstanding mentor in anesthesiology and the value of mentorship in the specialty. Each year, the FAER Academy of Research Mentors in Anesthesiology presents the award at the ASA annual meeting during the Celebration of Research.

    The recipient of the 2012 Mentoring Excellence in Research award was Roderic G. Eckenhoff, M.D., Austin Lamont Professor of Anesthesia, University of Pennyslvania, Philadelphia. The nomination deadline for the FAER Mentoring Excellence in Research Award is March 31, 2013. Nomination forms and more information about the nomination process are available at FAER.org/mentor-award. If you have questions about award nominations, contact Mary Schrandt, Associate Director, at (507) 538-7883.

    Thank Your Mentor!
    Say “thank you” to the important mentor in your life by making a gift to FAER in his or her honor. Recognizing their importance to your career by giving to FAER in their name will show them your appreciation. When you give, your mentor will receive a card in the mail notifying him or her of your contribution (without listing the amount). You can make your gift in honor of your mentor at FAER.org/donate or by calling the FAER office at (507) 266-6866.

    Roderic G. Eckenhoff, M.D. is an Austin Lamont Professor and Vice Chair for Research, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

    Max B. Kelz, M.D., Ph.D. is Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.